The old settlements of Santorini, like in most small Aegean islands, are placed far from the shore, as the fear of pirate assaults forced the locals to settle on steep cliffs or hidden valleys that offered better defense or were harder to spot from the sea. The main building material is the red or black lava stone. Although surrounded by the sea, Santorini is a very dry, wind-swept volcanic land hostile to vegetation, especially trees. As a result, timber had been a costly luxury, brought from distant places. However, the volcano has offered a compensation for the lack of structural timber: the “Theran soil”, a volcanic ash with properties very similar to the cement, that has been widely used from ancient times to make very strong, easily available and cheap mortar.
The locals developed an architecture based on the compressive strength of the stone. The most common way to span large or small spaces was through quite thin vaulted roofs, bridging the gap between the much thicker sidewalls that withstand the horizontal forces of the vault. That transformation made rainwater (which is so valuable to this island), collection easier than the symmetrical vaults. That type of construction was so easy that it was applied even in very small scale. Today it has become the “trade-mark” of Santorini Island.
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